13 Aug 2022

'2,471 red hot football fans left for Coleraine by train, while many more travelled by motor and devious other ways...'

Take a look back at Derry City's first ever season in the Irish League

'2,471 red hot football fans left for Coleraine by train, while many more travelled by motor and devious other ways...'

Derry City played their first season in the Irish League in 1929/30

On Friday night, May 31, 1929, Derry City Football Club was admitted to the Irish Senior Football League in place of Queen’s Island, and this decision, after a meeting of the members of the Irish League in Belfast, as relayed to the Brandywell club immediately and broadcast at the final of the McAlinden Cup being played between Derry Celtic and Richmond at Brandywell, the same evening. The announcement was received with loud cheers.

On Thursday, August the 22nd, all roads led to Brandywell for the new Derry City Senior Football team’s game with Glentoran.

Exceptional interest was taken in the game and City fielded the following side: Morris (ex-Wrexham), Mason (ex-Cardiff City), Ray (ex-Bradford City), Stewart (ex-St. Columb’s Court), Reid (ex-Rottherham United), Hilley (ex-Crystal Palace), Kirby (ex-Charlton Athletic), Randles (ex-Wrexham Amateurs), Curran (ex-Belfast Celtic), Burke (ex-Free State Army) and Senior (ex-Bradford City) for their first competitive game in the Irish League.

Although beaten, City put up a very creditable display and in fact led by 1-0 at the interval with a goal from Burke, but Glentoran rallied and scored twice in the second half to gain a narrow victory.

The attendance at the match was 7,500 and the gate receipts were £242.

Derry City put in another splendid performance on Saturday 24th August at Portadown, for after being 5-1 down at the interval, they managed to draw level and only another goal in the last couple of minutes of the game by Portadown prevented the visitors from winning their first point in the league Championship. 

For Derry, centre forward Curran had the honour of scoring the club’s first hat trick in the Irish League while Burke and Kirby added further goals.

City made a few changes in their team for the home game against Ballymena on Saturday, August 31st. Into the team came Fitzroy (ex-Distillery), Rodgers (ex-Wrexham) and Crozier (ex-Glasgow Celtic) and as a result the team showed great improvement to earn a 1-1 draw with a goal from Curran in the second half.

The all-conquering Linfield team came to Brandywell on Wednesday night, September 4 for the first round of the Gold Cup and in front of a record crowd of 12,000, went down 3-1 to a magnificent City team. There was not a dull moment in the 90 minutes play with the Blues opening the scoring in the fifth minute.

Three minutes later City equalised when Curran scored and in the 16th minute of the game, City took the lead when Curran scored again. The excitement and enthusiasm was tremendous as Crozier knocked in a third in the thirty-fifth minute to give City an unexpected 3-1 lead, a lead which they held onto until the final whistle – incidentally it is worth recording that the Linfield players and officials visited the Derry City War Memorial before the game and placed a wreath – a nice gesture this from a visiting club.

On Saturday, 7th September, City travelled to Newry for an Irish League fixture and gained two valuable points, winning 3-2 with goals from Crozier, Curran (2).

City played their first match in the Northern capital, Belfast, on Saturday September 14th. Celtic were the opponents and a big contingent left Derry on two special trains for the match, but the 2,000 supporters saw Derry well beaten by 4 goals to nil by a better side, although some of the referee’s decisions went unfairly against the City team.



On Wednesday September 18th, Derry were unlucky to lose their second round Gold Cup fixture at Brandywell against Glentoran by a single goal and although City made an early exit from the competition, it must be recorded that Glentoran were dead lucky to win in front of another record crowd which paid £376.

In search of league points Ards visited Brandywell on Saturday, September 21st, but after 90 minutes play both teams had to do with a share of the points. The result was a 2-2 draw with City’s goals coming from Hilley and Curran. City should have won but Curran missed a penalty during the game.

Linfield beat Derry by 6 goals to 2 on Saturday, September 28, but City’s inferiority was not so big as it might appear for the home team had a good slice of the play and missed many good chances whereas Linfield took all their chances and as a result gathered in two valuable points. Scorers for City were Curran and Stewart.

City recorded their first home league victory on Saturday October 5 when they ran out winners by four goals to three against Cliftonville. City won the toss and in the first half played against the Brandywell Road goal with Curran scoring two goals for City in the first sixteen minutes of the game.

Cliftonville pulled the two goals back by the interval and the game and the run of play was evenly balanced. On resumption, Cliftonville went into the lead with an early goal, but from the ‘spot’ kick five minutes later, Derry equalised when Senior scored.

City’s winning goal came in the last minute of the game, with play jumping from end to end, when Hilley seized an opportunity following a corner kick by Coyle to head home the winner.

The first Amateur International Association Football match between Ireland and Scotland took place at Brandywell, Derry, on Saturday, October 12th. This also was the first international game in Derry and Stewart, Derry City, was chosen as a reserve. Some 5,000 attended the game which Scotland won 3-0.

On the same day, City travelled to Lurgan, and after a fine performance got the better of Glenavon by the odd goal in five. Scorers for City were Senior, Murphy and Curran and this three-goal lead was held until five minutes from the end when Glenavon put on a great spurt and scored twice.

After a free Saturday on October 19, City’s next league game was against Larne at Brandywell on October 26th and at the end of 90 minutes play the home team had scored their third successive victory winning two goals to one. Scorers for City were Curran and Murphy. Unfortunately, City’s half-back Ray had his leg broken three minutes from full time and the incident marred what was otherwise a good day for the Brandywell club.


Red hot

2,471 red hot football fans left the Maiden City on Saturday, November 2nd for Coleraine by train, while many more travelled by motor and devious other ways. In fact, a gate of £204 witnessed Derry City defeat the home team by two goals to one.

It was a memorable clash between two great local rivals in their first encounter in the Irish League. City however dominated much of the play, treating the game as a cup tie match while Coleraine chose to make it a league game and in these mistaken tactics lost. Scorers for City were Crozier, Hilley while Mahaffey, Coleraine’s goalkeeper, scored from the penalty spot for Coleraine.

City maintained their improved form on Saturday, November 9th, by drawing with Belfast Distillery at Brandywell. The score was 1-1 after a strenuous game. Hilley scored for Derry from a corner kick in the first half while Distillery equalised near the interval. The second half was scoreless but full of thrills and near misses from both sides.

Derry City once more confounded the critics on Saturday, November 16th by travelling to Bangor and defeating the home team by three goals to nil. Bangor were tipped to win, but City’s defence was invincible, even taking into account that the team had been travelling from Derry to Bangor since a very early hour in the morning – 7:30am in fact. A very small attendance saw Curran scire twice and O’Donnell once, while McDonald in the City goal was in tremendous form and made several very brilliant saves.

On Saturday, November 23, City made their third visit to Belfast but again came away pointless. This time Glentoran were the victors, winning by two goals to nil although City had to play with ten men for 35 minutes when captain Hilley went off injured with a damaged cartilage. City’s only consolation during the day was after the match when the team and the directors were entertained to tea by the Glentoran club.

Derry City were beaten by Ballymena in the first round of the Irish Cup at Brandywell on Saturday, November 30th by four goals to one. The score however hardly represented the run of play, as one of Ballymena’s goals was from a penalty and the other was scored nine minutes from full time, when the semi-darkness made the conditions extremely difficult and erratic for both teams. Derry were also without Hilley and Kelso and their absence weakened the team. Curran scored City’s goal.

Another hat trick for Curran

At Brandywell, on Saturday December 7th, Curran, City’s goal-scoring centre-forward, scored his second hat trick of the season. Strangely it was against Portadown again for it will be remembered that earlier in the season he hit three at Shamrock Park, Portadown. The City scored five goals in all, with Mitchell and Senior adding to Curran’s three.

The Derry players on Saturday, December 14th lacked punch and anticipation in their match against Ballymena at Ballymena, with the result that they went down by four goals to nil to the Braidmen. A poor game by Derry but with Hilley due to make his reappearance shortly, it was considered that his presence in the half back line would be a great source of strength and victories would be more plentiful as a result.

Derry, playing with a weakened team on Saturday, December 21st, defeated Newry Town by two goals to nil. It was City’s seventh successive home league win. The first half was scoreless but in the second, which was played at a very fast pace, Derry got the necessary goals, the first coming from a penalty kick by Reid, while Curran scored the second. Outstanding for Derry were full back Mason and half back Stewart while the rest of the team played quite poorly despite winning.

City scored their second outstanding home victory when, on Christmas Day, they triumphed over the famous Belfast Celtic by no less than three goals to one after leading by three clear goals at the interval. There was a huge attendance at the game despite the miserable weather conditions.

The ground was heavy and made classical football difficult, but apart from that the game, from whistle to whistle, never lost interest, and there were thrills and intense enthusiasm and excitement to the final whistle.

Incidentally, it was Hilley’s first game since his injury in late November and he marked his reappearance by wining the toss. Goals from Mitchell and Crozier (2), won the game for City and sent the Derry supporters home wild with excitement.

Linfield visited Brandywell on Saturday, December 28 and although tremendous interest was taken in the game, the weather was deplorable and more or less spoiled the match. Linfield won however by two goals to nil but were lucky as City held the balance of play in the first half and practically monopolized it in the second.

All the Derry team played well and with six more league games down for decision, City’s manager, Mr. Joe McCleery, was hopeful of a runners up position in the league.

Cliftonville at home defeated Derry City by four goals to two on Saturday, January 4th in a game partly spoiled by the Reds’ offside tactics. However on the day the better side won – Curran scored City’s first goal and the second three minutes from time was scored in the semi-darkness again by Curran.

The match on Saturday, January 19th at Brandywell between Derry City and a representative Irish Intermediate League eleven was spoiled by the weather conditions, the ground being snowbound, while snow fell during the game.

City missed many chances during the game as they lost 2-1, while after a number of unsuccessful attempts, Curran got another shot at goal midway through the second half and this time equalised the score. The Intermediate League scored the winning goal in the latter stages of the game.


Dip in form

On Saturday, January 16th, City played a drawn game with Larne. The score was two goals each and on the two occasions Larne netted Derry were unlucky. However a draw fairly represented the play in a poor game. Holley and Crozier scored for Derry.

On Thursday afternoon, January 23rd, City entertained Glenavon at Brandywell and in another poor game, defeated the visitors by two goals to nil. Both City’s goals were scored in the first half by Lowry and Curran while in the second half Derry did not extend themselves fully and as a result, their forwards failed to increase the score.

Derry City, on Saturday, January 25th, atoned for their last two poor displays when they managed to hold a keen Coleraine team to a scoreless draw. It was a good performance from City and but for a splendid Coleraine defence, the home team would have won by many goals. Gate receipts for the game amounted to £223.

On Saturday, February 1st, the Intermediate League XI paid a return visit to Brandywell to play the Derry City Senior XI and this time the game ended in a 1-1 draw. City’s goal was scored by Senior.

City suffered another defeat on Saturday, February 8th, when they travelled to Belfast and were defeated by Distillery by four goals to two. It was a game dominated by Distillery from start to finish. The Derry defence was por and some of the forwards when they had the ball, held on to it for far too long. The only players to shine in the team were Senior and Curran. City’s two goals were scored by these players.

City faced Bangor on Saturday, February 15th without Crozier, wo had parted company with the club and returned to Glasgow earlier in the week while Casey, formerly with Glentoran, stepped into Crozier’s place in the City team. There was a large attendance at the game to see Derry record a 3-2 victory over the Co. Down club.

This victory brought the visitors a total of 29 points out of a possible 52 and as this was the club’s last league game of the season, their record for the first season in the competition was: Played 26, won 12, lost 9, drawn 5, goals for 52, against 55, points 29.

City’s goals against Bangor were scored by Reid, Senior and new boy Casey. City finished sixth in the league.


City Cup competition

Saturday, February 22nd, witnessed the advent of the City Cup competition with Portadown at Brandywell. For this match City included two new signings, J.R Baillie (ex Cardiff City) and P. Hickey (a Scottish junior player). But City started the competition on a disappointing note when they only secured a draw from the game. There was a fine attendance (£151), and the ground was in splendid condition but unfortunately the match was disappointing. Reed from the penalty spot, and Curran scored for City while Portadown scored two quick goals near the end of the game to grab a share of the points.

City played a friendly game on Saturday, Match 1, against Dundalk at Brandywell. The result was a draw of one goal each. The scorer for Derry was Hilley.

The small group of Derry City supporters who accompanied the team to Belfast on Saturday, March 8, returned home happy for they witnessed a memorable victory over Glentoran in one of the best games of the season.

It was a game full of goals with City two in arrears after only ten minutes. But two great goals by Mitchell in the 12th and 14th minutes brought Derry back on to level terms.

Glentoran scored again in the 20th minute but Hilley, in magnificent form, equalised in the 28th minute. Both sides then struggled for supremacy and the score remained 3-3 until half time.

On resumption, and after the players had been presented to Minister of Home Affairs, Dawson Bates, during the interval, City went into the lead when, in the 59th minute, Mitchell scored their fourth and winning goal. Glentoran pressed hard for an equalise, hitting Derry’s crossbar three times before the referee blew his whistle.

City gained their most decisive victory of the season on Saturday, March 15th, when they defeated Larne at Brandywell by five goals to nil. The winning team was the same which conquered Glentoran a week earlier and this time all Derry’s goals came from the right wing. Curran (2), Mitchell. Reed and Stewart scored the goals which kept City’s hopes of City Cup honours high.

City however lost valuable cup points at Bangor on Saturday, March 22nd when they lost by two goals to one. The defeat was a very narrow one. City went one up seventeen minutes into the second half when Curran scored, but Bangor struck back to equalise before scoring the winning goal just five minutes from time.

On Saturday, March 29 at Brandywell, City annexed both points with the aid of a goal in the last five minutes. Visitors Glentoran went down 4-3 in a thrilling game in which Curran (2), Reed (penalty) and Mitchell scored for City to give the home team a narrow victory.

One goal decided the next match on Saturday, April 5th against Distillery at Brandywell. It was new signing W. Neill (ex Ayr United), who scored in the 88th minute of the game.

A goal by Senior then secured a point for City in their game against Cliftonville at Solitude on Saturday, April 12. This point put City level with Celtic and Glentoran at the top of the City Cup competition.


Easter bounty

City then started off their Easter holiday fixtures with an important fixture against local rivals Coleraine on April 19th at Brandywell.

The game did not assume the derby aspect anticipated as it ended scoreless with both defences on top. However, it allowed the spectators present to have a look at City’s new signings, R. Hogg (ex Welsh League) and J Douglas (ex Alloa) and both played well.

On Easter Monday, April 21st, City met Linfield at Windsor Park, Belfast. Linfield, the league champions and cup winners, were expected to beat Derry but this was before the match. What happened during the 90 minutes was different. The City team clicked right from the kick off and they not only matched, but were better than Linfield. Their superiority was maintained until the end and as a result they scored a tremendous 4-2 victory. Curran again scored twice, while Mitchell and Stewart sealed the win with their goals.

Just a day later, City defeated Ballymena by two goals to nil at the Showgrounds, Ballymena. Stewart scored twice to give the Maiden City five points from six from the holiday fixtures. As a result, they sat in second place, just one point behind leaders Glentoran.

A big crowd assembled at Brandywell on Tuesday, April 25th to watch the first match between Glasgow Celtic and Derry City. A good, attractive but rather quiet game ended in a win for Celtic by four goals to nil with reed and Hilley outstanding on the City side. The gate receipts were £290.

The few Derry City supporters who made the long journey to Newtonards on Saturday, April 26th, had the mortifying experience of seeing their team well beaten by Ards as they produced their poorest display of the season. City deserved their 2-1 defeat despite taking the lead early on.

On Tuesday, April 29th, Scottish club Kilmarnock visited Brandywell and recorded a two goals to nil victory over Derry in a friendly fixture.


Good home record

Derry City, in their last home competitive match of the season on May 3rd, drew with Belfast Celtic 0-0 and this wound up a splendid home record for the season, particularly in the City Cup, in which they were undefeated at home, while in the Irish League they had only two defeats.

City completed their competitive fixtures on Saturday, May 10th with a 4-2 victory over Newry, with Curran, Reed and Mitchell (2) scoring fir the visitors. This win meant that City finished the City Cup competition level with Glenavon behind Glentoran and trophy winners Belfast Celtic.

For the record, City’s top goal scorer during the season was Curran with 35 goals in 39 matches, while goalkeeper McDonald, who took part in 30 games, conceded only 51 goals.


Extract taken from ‘A History of Derry City Football and Athletic Club, 1929-1972’, by W.H.W Platt.

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